Album Review: Red Velvet – Russian Roulette

Release Date: 2016.09.7

Tracklist:

  1.  러시안 룰렛/Russian Roulette
  2. Lucky Girl
  3. Bad Dracula
  4. Sunny Afternoon
  5. Fool
  6. Some Love
  7. My Dear

Total Runtime: 00:24:52

Recommended for: people who enjoy pop and electronic music with a bit of retro sound

NOT recommended for: anyone looking for hip hop or ballad tracks

SM Entertainment’s five-member girl group Red Velvet made their second comeback in 2016 with their Russian Roulette mini album. While their first comeback this year was more focused on the “velvet” aspect of the group’s dynamic, this album combines the two dynamics, both “red” and “velvet” for a refreshing and bright concept. Consisting of seven tracks total, the Russian Roulette album is headed by a title track of the same name. The album overall is an eclectic mix of pop, EDM, and jazz but carries Red Velvet’s signature quirkiness across all tracks. So let’s not wait any longer and fire off our pistols at the starting line as we take a listen to Red Velvet’s latest addition to their discography.

1. 러시안 룰렛/Russian Roulette

The Russian Roulette album starts of with a bang with the eponymous title track “Russian Roulette.” It’s not a Red Velvet title track without some “la la la’s” thrown into the mix and this song doesn’t disappoint. It begins with the girls singing this line with some synths running behind their vocals in the background. An 8-bit video game-sounding instrumental then preludes the first verse of the song before Seulgi begins singing. The verses themselves are a bit formulaic with a rather simple instrumental and sweet vocals from each of the members. But the song really picks up when the chorus finally hits. The girls combine their vocal prowess for a nicely harmonized and completely catchy chorus with a “heart b-b-beat” hook that immediately sticks in your head. The song slows down before the climax with a simple electronic piano and the girls’ supporting vocals. Directly before the final chorus there is a funky electric guitar-sounding instrumental that’s perfect for a Red Velvet dance break.

One interesting thing about this track is that it’s completely devoid of any sort of rapping, which is unlike any “red” title track from Red Velvet. As someone who dislikes rap breaks thrown into songs for the sake of a rap break, I enjoyed this. I think Red Velvet’s vocals are one of their greatest strengths and Irene in particular is someone who’s vocal tone is something I greatly prefer to her rapping. It was also a bit of pleasant surprise to see Yeri take such a prominent role in this song, even getting more lines than main vocal Wendy. She definitely isn’t the strongest vocalist of the bunch but I think it’s nice that she got a chance to shine and show a little more of what she’s capable of. I can’t say I love that Wendy got pushed by the wayside a bit but she got to shine in other tracks on the album, so I won’t complain too much. Overall, I don’t think “Russian Roulette” challenged Red Velvet vocally like some of their other title tracks but at the same time it was easier listening. “Dumb Dumb,” for example, is a song I can’t really listen to on repeat or when I’m not in a certain mood because sometimes it’s just a bit too much, a bit overwhelming. “Russian Roulette” on the other hand is more mellow, and in my personal opinion, more addictive in the way the chorus catches your ear and doesn’t let it go.

2. Lucky Girl

Up next on the Russian Roulette album is the broadway-esque track “Lucky Girl.” There’s something distinctly show tunes-y about this song, be it the brass instruments that begin it or the powerful vocal harmonies. Some fantastic low vocals mark the beginning the first verse before Wendy comes in with a stronger and brighter sound. Directly before the chorus, the instrumental changes dramatically to the childlike sound of musical triangles with whispered lyrics over it. The chorus itself is explosive, a culmination of the complicated retro-pop instrumental and the clear, powerful singing from Red Velvet as a group. The “shooby doo wop’s” and clapping beats in the back of the chorus give it a very classic, old-school sound. At the end of the chorus is a rather unexpected “sad trombone” sound effect (the “wah-wah-wahhhh” sound of disappointment, I know you know it) that acts as an abrupt transition.

The second chorus follows in a similar vein as the first but with the order of each member’s parts rearranged a bit. The song switches things up once again at the bridge with a more electronic sound and less brass instruments as Yeri claims “I’ll be your lucky girl.” Then the instrumental falls away entirely except for some subdued electric piano notes as Wendy shines by singing the first part of the chorus alone. All of Red Velvet then jump in again to end the song on a high note with their beautiful vocal harmonies. I particularly enjoy how this track manages to change pace so frequently but still sound cohesive and not overproduced. Overall, “Lucky Girl” is definitely my favorite b-side on the album and probably in my top 10 from girl groups as a whole in 2016.

3. Bad Dracula

The third track of Russian Roulette is titled “Bad Dracula,” and its quirky name sounds deceptively sinister given how fun and bright the song actually is. The track starts with the sound of brass instruments and the rapidly increasing chanting of “Ha ha ha, yeah yeah yeah.” The instrumental suddenly changes to a sound that is much more funky electropop than the beginning would have led you to anticipate. Each of the girls take turns in singing (or in Irene’s case, speaking) in the first verse before Wendy showcases her power vocals in a final drawn-out “woah” preceding the chorus. The chorus itself is fast in tempo and features the girls singing together as a group. The brass section returns for a moment as Yeri talk-sings a final line before the more electronic instrumental re-enters the song for the second verse. Wendy and Seulgi’s parts in the second verse are probably my favorite part of the song, with their rhythmic singing perfectly accompanying the music layered behind their voices.

Interestingly enough, this is the first track on the album to feature rapping in it, which happens during the bridge as Yeri and Irene talk-rap their way through it. The build-up to the final chorus is a return to the “ha ha ha, yeah yeah yeah” motif heard earlier. The last chorus is a complicated mixture of single and group vocals with rather sing-song rapping thrown into the mix. But the song ends with Wendy’s strong vocals announcing “I just want to dance” and final shouted “Yeah, yeah!” The concept of this song as a whole is really cute: Red Velvet are vampires, but “bad” ones in the sense that they are too innocent and lovestruck. “Bad Dracula” is quirky and fun – quintessential Red Velvet. It’s a perfect addition to this bright, retro-themed album and one I personally loved.

4. Sunny Afternoon

The next track, titled “Sunny Afternoon,” slows the pace of the Russian Roulette album a bit with its effortless blend of ballad and pop. This song actually begins with the chorus: a medley of Red Velvet’s strong, clear vocals and the laid back synth-pop instrumental accompanying them. Wendy then demonstrates some impressive ad-libs before the first verse. The verses themselves are very soft, featuring sweet vocals from all of the girls with a subtle jazzy instrumental to accompany them. The choruses that break up the verses definitely amp up the song a little and bring more energy to it, as does the use of a guitar instrumental thrown in after the second chorus. A short rap break from Yeri and Irene follows, but it’s nothing too aggressive to seems out-of-place. The bridge makes a very nice climax to the track as it begins with only the softest of background music and Seulgi’s singing. Then Wendy follows her, her voice growing in intensity and she finishes the bridge as the orchestral instrumental swells behind her voice. One last extra bright, jazz-heavy chorus laden with vocal harmonies and ad-libs ends the song with a lasting impact.

In SM’s official track description of the album, “Sunny Afternoon” was said to be a “new Jill swing containing the mood of a warm afternoon.” And while I can’t vouch for the first part, this song definitely invokes all the peaceful imagery associated with a sun-filled afternoon. I can see more of the “velvet” side of the group coming through in this track with its smooth sound and minimal energy. I will admit it feels a bit standard girl group b-side in some aspects, such as the verses. But “Sunny Afternoon” is altogether a lovely little song that does well in showcasing the vocals of the Red Velvet, especially the girls outside the vocal line.

5. Fool

Up next is the fifth track of the Russian Roulette album, entitled “Fool.” The strumming of an almost country-style guitar starts the song off, giving it playful feel right of the bat. Seulgi and Joy then begin the first verse. When Wendy starts singing the background music becomes more complicated, with smooth layers of vocals complimenting hers. The chorus of this song focuses more on the members as individuals rather than a group, however Red Velvet do combine their voices to sing the catchy “Fool” line of the chorus. A brief interlude of a guitar instrumental follows directly after the chorus. The second verse is much of the same as the first, but the bridge switches things up a bit as the guitar strumming picks up speed under Seulgi’s vocals. Wendy takes the song a bit lower to finish off the bridge before the final chorus begins.

After the last chorus, Wendy and Joy take turns announcing “I’m a fool” and it’s here that Joy really gets to shine. Directly before the song ends, the instrumental returns to the very simplistic one that began the song as Seulgi sings the final lines and the song winds to a slow close. Seulgi and Joy were definitely the shining stars of this track whereas Irene didn’t feature much here except for brief lines in the chorus. “Fool” is another song without any semblance of rapping, a purposeful and fitting decision on the part of the producers. All in all, I personally think the song is nice but nothing earth shattering in the way of originality. It has a very laid-back, sweet vibe that makes it easy listening and enjoyable even if it failed catch my ear like some other tracks on the album.

6. Some Love

The sixth track of Russian Roulette is the tropical house jam “Some Love.” A man’s voice speaks at the beginning of the song accompanied by some very simple synths. Then a rapid drumbeat starts off the real house beats of the song. After Seulgi and Yeri sing, the instrumental makes a transition to a lower sound for Joy, Wendy and Irene to sing individual parts. It’s here that the use of a pan flute really contributes to the song’s uplifting vibe. In the chorus the members of Red Velvet sing together to the catchy beats of the background instrumental. Before the second verse, Irene sings, “Just a little bit, little bit higher” in a voice low enough it almost sounds like she’s talking. The bridge features another noticeable switch in the instrumental of the song as Seulgi and Wendy’s vocals are once again the main feature. After one last chorus, Irene ends the song with her reoccurring spoken line first heard at the beginning of the second verse.

It’s hard to even explain this song: just think of the perfect blend of tropical house and Kpop and you’ll be close.”Some Love” sounds like it would be right at home in f(x)’s 4 Walls album, and I mean that in the best way possible. I would say this is one of the more unique and innovative tracks on the entire Russian Roulette album and it’s definitely a new sound for Red Velvet. In general, this track is just not something you’d hear on the typical Kpop girl group album. It’s such a diverse song that it almost sounds disjointed at parts, but somehow it doesn’t detract from the overall quality at all. Another personal favorite of mine, “Some Love” delivers vocals, creativity, and a memorable tune that I’ll be listening to for weeks to come.

7. My Dear

The final track on the Russian Roulette album is entitled “My Dear.” It starts with a repetitive synth heavy instrumental that has an almost brass-instrument sound to it. Irene announces “My dear, my love, my best” before the other members of Red Velvet follow by singing along to a now simpler background instrumental. Wendy draws out a long, loud note of the last line of the verse before the song immediately jumps to the chorus.  Red Velvet once more sing the majority of the chorus together as a group for a powerful and strong sound. However, it’s Yeri that finishes the chorus in a sweet voice. Irene sings the beginning of the second verse softly and Seulgi masterfully covers the build up to the chorus with her vocals.

The bridge of this song is particularly interesting to me with a wide range of vocals being showcased by Joy, Seulgi, and Wendy. Joy and Seulgi sing quickly first while Wendy then belts an impressive note that extends into the beginning of the last chorus. The song winds to an end with some last little ad-libs and then Wendy drags out a long, “It’s you, my dear” as the music falls away entirely. “My Dear” has a little bit of that old school sound to it that was so prevalent in “Lucky Girl.” But there’s a modern twist on it with the use of synth beats throughout the track. I liked how this track was able to showcase some fantastic vocals from the members while still having a rather chill, almost whimsical feeling to it. I’d classify this track as a good end to a great album – nothing more, nothing less.


Overall, I would say Russian Roulette is nice addition to Red Velvet’s already outstanding discography. It has laid-back, retro sound that was underlying through all of the tracks even if the type of song featured varied from tropical house to a pop-ballad hybrid. I feel like this album would be much more suited to a summer release. Which is a bit ironic given that The Velvet was a much slower, darker album that was released in spring when it seemed to suit fall better. Russian Roulette really showcased distinct vocal improvements that can be heard from the members of Red Velvet in these songs. SM seems to be making efforts to include the members like Yeri and Irene that aren’t typically given large singing roles and I appreciate that. With a marked decrease in rapping, it’s a bit of a new sound for Red Velvet and also in keeping with SM’s house and EDM kick they seem to be on. I still find The Red to be Red Velvet’s best album, and their most distinctive and unique contribution to their discography. But in the end Russian Roulette is a great release for a mini-album and one I’ve happily added to my playlist for the next few months.


Replayability – GREEN

r21pIbRSongs are catchy and hook the listener, with some being solid and others outstanding

 

Cohesiveness – YELLOW

yellowratingreviewWide variety of musical styles present but a common theme maintained across album

 

Originality – YELLOW

yellowratingreviewSome songs have a sound often heard in Kpop, others are uniquely Red Velvet

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